If Maui, Hawaii isn’t at the top of your travel list, put it there now! Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands and offers myriad things to do in its beautiful and diverse landscape. Maui is nicknamed the “Valley Isle” for the large valley that separates the northwestern and southeastern volcanoes on the island. Maui is known for its fantastic snorkeling, windsurfing, surfing, and kiteboarding, as well as famous destinations like the Road to Hana and Haleakala National Park. It is an outdoor enthusiast’s heaven, a haven for delicious coastal cuisine, and the perfect place to spend a honeymoon or babymoon. Truth be told, we had planned our July trip before I was even pregnant, but once we realized we’d be in Hawaii when I was 29 weeks along, we decided to dub the trip our official babymoon!
While I could easily have stayed in Maui for a few weeks, the 5 nights we spent on the island were the perfect amount of time and allowed us to spend time in each of the distinct regions of the island. To do this, we spent 2 nights in the Kihei/Wailea area, 2 nights in Paia/Haiku, and 1 night in Kahului near the airport before our flight home. We took day trips to Haleakala National Park and the beaches in Lahaina. While each area had a distinctive feel, my favorite was Kihei. Lahaina is a popular part of the island, but caters to tourists with its many beach resorts and chain restaurants and stores. Paia and Haiku offer a more local ambiance and some great beaches for surfing and other wind sports. In my opinion, Kihei was the perfect balance – while there were nice hotels and resorts, there weren’t nearly as many as in Lahaina so it retained more of the local feel. My favorite part was the famous “Turtle Town” located in Kihei where we were able to swim, stand up paddleboard, and kayak with the beautiful Hawaiian green sea turtle daily.
If you’re heading to Maui, I’ve broken down must-do activities and provided restaurant recommendations for each area of the island.
SOUTH MAUI (Kihei/Wailea)
As mentioned before, South Maui was my favorite part of the island. I love wildlife, so being able to swim with Hawaiian green sea turtles was a dream come true for me. Kihei is the place to be when it comes to seeing the incredible turtles. Don’t feel like you need to go with a tour operator; I only had to wade out from the shore outside our hotel to find them swimming about. The hotel next door to ours offered rentals including kayaks, snorkel equipment, and SUP (stand up paddleboards). We took advantage of all of them to spend time with the turtles. We easily found large groups of them swimming in the many ocean coves and then just jumped in to join them. A great place to get in the water with them if you’re not staying in the area is at the Kama’ole Beach Park.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to snorkel in the Molokini Marine Sanctuary, but it’s one activity that is highly recommended for snorkeling enthusiasts. Molokini is about 150,000 years old and one of only three volcanic calderas in the world. The crater is a half mile wide and is partially hidden under the surface, creating an island marine sanctuary filled with marine life. The crater has supposedly unmatched clarity and visibility so offers incredible snorkeling and diving opportunities. This is definitely an activity we will do on the next trip!
Another of my favorite Kihei activities was hiking the Eddie Pu Trail (map of the Kihei portion of the trail). Since it got a bit too windy in the afternoons to stay on the beach, we hiked along the coast and looked for more sea turtles while the winds kept us cool even in the heavy sunshine. Originally shoreline trails used by ancient people, trails including the Eddie Pu Trail stretch 211 miles around the coast of Maui. It’s ok if you’re not up for the whole thing; it’s worth hiking parts of it. We walked a great section near Kihei that took us through beautiful beach coves and grassy fields along the rocky shoreline. Depending on the time of year, keep your eyes open for sea turtles and humpback whales!
The beaches in South Maui are stunning, the water is calm, and the views out to Molokini Crater are unreal. We enjoyed relaxing in the sunshine and taking in the sunsets each day of our time in Kihei. South Maui offers several public beaches and one of the best is Big Beach in Makena State Park. It is a beautiful place to swim or bring a picnic and watch the sunset.
Finally, one of Maui’s most worthwhile activities and a true bucket list item is taking a helicopter ride. We hadn’t booked a trip in advance, but decided to go at the last minute with Air Maui. I am so thankful that we did, as it was one of the most memorable and incredible travel experiences I’ve had. We took the West Maui and Molokai tour which flies over the West Maui mountains and across the Pailolo Channel to fly along the sea cliffs and waterfalls of Molokai. The pilots at Air Maui make playlists that are perfectly synchronized with the flight plan, playing dramatic music as you descend to the largest sea cliffs in the world or cross over a volcanic crater. Don’t worry, you can take the whole journey home on video too! ProTip: If you book on the day of as a single rider, you can ride for as low as $100 per person rather than the usual $330 cost. Much better than the usual price as long as you don’t mind riding with new friends!
We had incredible food in South Maui, from the sushi, poke, and spam musubi (Hawaiian delicacy that was surprisingly good) we found at the local Foodland grocery store to the elegant sunset dinner we had at Gannon’s. Gannon’s is a contemporary Hawaiian restaurant with an outdoor lanai and stunning views of the ocean and sunsets. Chef Beverly Gannon has been voted Best Chef on Maui and a founder of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement and has won numerous awards for her food. What to order: Ginger Shoyu Clams, Cashew Crusted Catch (I had the pineapple red curry dish with yellowtail tuna).
For a more casual meal, try the acai bowls, fancy toasts, or fresh lemonade at Aloha Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade. When you’re in Maui, you can’t miss the popular acai bowls filled with fresh fruit, granola, and other toppings like bee pollen, honey, coconut, cacao nibs, or coffee. While you’re at Aloha Wow Wow, pick up a fresh lemonade for the beach later – the watermelon basil and strawberry mint are favorites! ProTip: Order online to pickup at the store for faster service.
UPCOUNTRY AND EAST MAUI (Paia/Haiku)
After a few days in Kihei, we hit the road to check out a different region of the island. Haiku and Paia are known to cater more to locals and surfers as the north shore offers the perfect combination of wind and waves. We stayed in a small Airbnb in the Haiku upcountry, which is a few miles inland from Paia. I would note that many of the homes on the island do not have air conditioning. In hindsight, I would have probably stayed somewhere else that offered air conditioning because after long days in the sun, we were desperate for cool air in the evenings!
On our first day in Paia, we stumbled upon the Ho’okipa Beach Park while stopping to take pictures and found resting sea turtles. A member of the local “Turtle Team” is on hand to answer questions and make sure people don’t disturb the turtles. We learned that the green sea turtles often swim up on the beach to sleep overnight. It was incredible to see the turtles up close and watch them make their way up the shore. This activity is fun for all ages and free!
Without a doubt the most famous activity in East Maui is driving the Road to Hana, or the Hāna Highway, which runs along the east coast of Maui, curving around mountains and by black and red sand beaches and waterfalls. The Road to Hana is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Just over 60 miles and with over 600 turns, it twists through lush tropical landscapes filled with hidden treasures like secluded beaches, rushing waterfalls, and coastal trails. While you can go with a tour group, it’s definitely more enchanting on your own. Don’t worry about snacks as there are plenty of fruit stands and food trucks along the road. If you want to read in detail about some of the best stops on the Road to Hana, stay tuned for my next post!
Another popular activity is the Haleakala summit where you can watch the sun rise (or set) over a volcano. Don’t worry about the volcano blowing up while you’re there; it’s dormant. The only thing you have to worry about is the 3:30 am wakeup call to witness this beautiful sight and whether to take a guided group tour or drive yourself. Many of the group tours include a bike ride down the mountain, and because I was too far along for that, we drove ourselves to the summit to view the sunrise. Be sure to pack warm clothes; it is cold and windy at 10,000 feet! If you go on your own, book your reservation in advance with the National Park Service. It’s only $1.50, but the NPS limits the number of spectators and the reservation is required to reserve your parking spot. You’ll also need to pay a national park entrance fee or use your national park pass. I’m told the crowds are not so intense at sunset, so on a return trip, I’d try that.
Arguably, the most famous place to eat in East Maui is Mama’s Fish House. If you know anyone who’s been to Maui, they will probably tell you that you MUST dine at Mama’s Fish House. I disagree. Sure, the service is fantastic and the views on the property are beautiful. However, the entrees are insanely overpriced (most are at least $60) for small portions and dishes that, while good, are not the best I’ve ever had. The entrees we had were $60 each, but would cost $25-35 at most similar restaurants. We ate many other great meals in Maui for much more affordable prices. Go to Mama’s if you like, but expect to spend a fortune!
For a more casual meal in Paia, have flatbread pizza at The Flatbread Company. The Flatbread Company uses organic food from local farms and producers to make delicious woodfire pizzas. There’s no air conditioning so it can be a little warm in the restaurant, but the flatbreads are delightful. What to order: Try the Mopsy’s Kalua Pork for a truly Hawaiian pizza.
Top off your meal at Tobi’s Shave Ice where you can choose from hundreds of flavor combinations. They also offer great tuna poke and salads if you want to make a whole meal of it. Check out their instagram to get your mouth watering!
An option for a quick meal is at the food truck roundup near Haiku Market, which we were told about by our airbnb hosts. We had gyros from the Mediterranean Grill. It was the perfect quick dinner after a full day on the Road to Hanna.
The best place to have breakfast/brunch in Paia is Island Fresh. The restaurant is located in Paia’s historic train station and offers delicious organic meals, including lunch and dinner, and refreshing iced coffees. You can even take a yoga class next door before your breakfast. What to order: Banana bread french toast, acai bowl.
WEST MAUI (Lahaina)
We spent a day driving around West Maui, intending to drive from Paia to Lahaina. Unfortunately, the road was closed in the middle with no signage to tell us as much, so we had to drive all the way back around and through the center of the island to get to Lahaina. Once we arrived, we spent a few hours relaxing at the beautiful Napili Bay Beach. Napili Bay is a hidden gem near Kapalua Beach, but is significantly less crowded. The key is to get to the beach early enough to find parking or cut through the resort property. The water is clear and calm and you may even spot some sea turtles near the rocks.
While at Napili Bay Beach, have lunch at the Sea Horse Restaurant. It’s a nice open air restaurant on the beach where you can eat traditional Hawaiian dishes while looking out at the gorgeous blue water. As a bonus, it is reasonably priced as compared to other waterfront dining. What to order: Poke nachos, loco moko.
We later visited the Nakalele Blowhole where we hiked part of the way down to the blowhole to view it spouting. Set on Maui’s northwestern coast, Nakalele Blowhole is a natural geyser where seawater trapped in an underwater lava tube is constantly searching for a way to escape. At high tide, you’ll see it erupt every few minutes! There is a short hike from the parking area to the blowhole if you’d like to watch it up close; otherwise, it’s spectacular from above. Just make sure to stay on dry rocks as reportedly, accidents have happened when tourists ventured dangerously close to the blowhole.
We ended the day watching the stunning sunset at Kahekili Beach Park. Most of Lahaina is filled with resorts with private beaches accessible only to guests, but the Kahekili Beach Park is a small public park hidden in between two resorts. It has picnic tables and grills and is the perfect place to view the incredible Maui sunset. Pavilions are first-come, first-served.
After the sunset, have dinner in town at the Maui Brewing Company. Many of the restaurants in Lahaina are large chains and cater to tourists. However, the Maui Brewing Company retains more of a local vibe. The menu features several traditional and recreated Hawaiian dishes along with craft beer, of course.
CENTRAL MAUI (Kahului)
Before flying out of Maui or for lunch after a helicopter ride, make time to grab a meal in Kahului. Fans of Top Chef will not want to miss a chance to dine at Sheldon Simeon’s fantastic restaurant, Tin Roof. Meals are some of the best you’ll find in Maui, yet some of the least expensive (main dishes are all around $8-10). What to order: Mochiko chicken bowl. Take a tip from the locals and add on a 6 minute egg.
Top it off with one last shaved ice at Ululani’s Shave Ice, a popular shaved ice chain in Maui. Don’t forget to add condensed milk like a local!
Our time in Maui was truly magical and I hope you find our recommendations useful. Stay tuned for a full recap of the Road to Hana including stops you can’t miss!
Wow! Looks like an incredible trip! I will need to get back there to visit Maui!